Carla Meyer

First Impressions: Wildwood Kitchen & Bar further classes up Pavilions center

Amid the hubbub around Golden 1 Center and the restaurant openings it will inspire downtown is a quieter yet powerful movement to the east.

Developers and restaurateurs along Fair Oaks Boulevard in Sacramento and Carmichael are targeting diners who might not want to cross the H Street Bridge, and battle downtown traffic, to enjoy a night out.

University Village shopping center is undergoing a $10 million revamp that will include a new Buckhorn BBQ and other high-profile restaurants, and Carmichael’s Milagro Centre is gradually filling up with restaurants.

Leading this movement, as the first complete project out of the gates, is the $2 million-plus Wildwood Kitchen & Bar in the upscale Pavilions Shopping Center. The latest project from brothers Matt and Fred Haines (33rd Street Bistro and its satellites, Riverside Clubhouse, Suzie Burger) measures 7,000 feet (including patio) and features artful design and lighting (as well as several art pieces on its walls) and greater culinary ambitions than other Haines ventures.

“We are trying to take it to a different level,” Fred Haines, executive chef for the brothers’ restaurants, said of a menu that includes beet-cured Skuna Bay salmon carpaccio, and duck prosciutto (on the charcuterie plate). But the New American menu, developed by Fred Haines and chef de cuisine Robert Phillips, also includes a burger, and rib-eye and flatiron steaks.

“We are not pushing it over the top,” Haines said. All the dishes are “still understandable,” he said.

Menu: Entrees and salads (panzanella, butter lettuce, rotisserie chicken) are mostly straightforward. But there is daring afoot in the “small plates” section, which holds the beet-cured salmon as well as as “prawns a La Plancha,” with romesco and roasted breakfast radish.

But we were sad to see our favorite appetizer – the delightfully salty-fatty fried-chicken rillettes with fried-chicken skin “chips” – already has been dropped from the menu, a few weeks after we tried it. Fred Haines said the dish, which debuted at the 2015 Tower Bridge dinner, encountered mixed reactions from Wildwood patrons. But he plans to float it again at some point. So Wildwood patrons, here’s a note to your future selves: Give it a shot.

Price point: Prices tend to run a bit higher than at 33rd Street or Riverside, but not to a great degree, considering Wildwood offers a rib-eye ($34.95) and diver scallops ($28.95) and the other places’ most luxurious item is Skuna Bay salmon ($25.95). Craft cocktails run a non-outrageous $10-$12. Wines by the glass are $8-$15, and craft beers on draft $6-$7.

Ambiance: Wildwood, designed by longtime Haines brothers collaborator Bruce Benning, is so artfully lit that it evokes sleek Hollywood caper movies and romantic thrillers. You half expect George Clooney or Pierce Brosnan to come around the corner. Instead, you’re likely to get a guy named Gary from Haggin Oaks, who works in commercial real estate and is meeting his buddies after work.

They’re all in their 40s or 50s, and friendly, and want to talk among themselves and to you about how glad they are to have a place like this nearby instead of needing to drive downtown. And though they are not movie stars, they and their female counterparts are well-dressed and groomed – and flattered by Wildwood’s lighting, which provides illumination but mostly prettifies everything in its path.

Light plays beautifully off a mirrored wall covered by a series of “ropes” offering a shimmering effect not dissimilar to that created by the water feature on Riverside’s patio. Near the ropes hangs a raised-texture, framed art piece, by Kifumi Keppler, depicting what looks like living, vividly green moss. The artwork gets its own muted, museum-style spotlight. Orange upholstery covering booth seating warms up the room’s steel pillars and more industrial elements.

Wildwood’s large, rectangular bar is the room’s physical and spiritual center. Dimly lit – as all bar areas should be – it is staffed by highly attentive young people who want to make sure your Manhattan is not too sweet and ask if you want extra crostini with your carpaccio.

Drinks: Full bar, with a focus on whiskeys, many available by the glass. Compact, mostly Northern California wine list. Twelve-handle draft beer list includes Ruhstaller and Track 7 offerings.

Service: Stellar so far.

First impressions: Classy all-around. Though we mourned the rillettes’ loss, the duck prosciutto fulfilled a similar function, and the beet salmon carpaccio deftly balanced sweetness and salt.

Try it if: You like Ruth’s Chris and Piatti, but also want to support a local business.

Skip it if: Middle-aged people make you itch.

Wildwood Kitchen & Bar

556 Pavilions Lane, Sacramento

Information: 916-922-2858, www.wildwoodpavilions.com

Hours: 3-9 p.m. Sundays and Mondays; 3-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 3 p.m.-midnight (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.) Fridays and Saturdays. Scheduled to open for lunch (starting at 11 a.m. daily) Oct. 3.

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